The Story of 4:00 AM — How I Stopped Waiting for Life to Happen
I’d had panic attacks before. I was well aware of what they were. To some degree, I knew how to handle them.
I wanted a husband. I wanted out of the B-class first-floor apartment I lived in. I wanted the white picket fence. I wanted kids. I wanted to weigh less. I wanted to venture to places outside of the midwest.
I wanted the life all my classmates posted all over Facebook.
I was in my mid-twenties doing “just okay” at the game of life. I wasn’t making great money but I wasn’t in debt. I wasn’t healthy but I wasn’t obese. I wasn’t going after any goals but I wasn’t lazy. I wasn’t dating but I also wasn’t trying. I wasn’t going anywhere… but there wasn’t a “but” that could justify why that was okay.
All of the “wasn’ts” finally caught up with me. I stood in my closet and the pieces fell one-by-one. I was headed into another Friday night as many of the previous. I would cake my face in make up, have preliminary drinks with girlfriends, cab our way to the bar in hopes someone would find me interesting, drink until bar close, sleep well into the morning, wake up, nurse my hangover with greasy food and wait to see if anyone was “doing something” on Saturday night.
But this time, I couldn’t fit into my pants. Not just any pants. I couldn’t fit into my fat pants.
I stood in my closet and looked at all the outfits I could no longer squeeze my body into. These outfits were supposed to help me find a boyfriend. Once again, I’d have to purchase new clothes. My money was again claimed by the same problem I’d failed to address.
How was I supposed to have the life I dreamed of when I could barely afford to live the life I loathed?
The panic set on as if I’d been taken with an undercurrent. I sobbed uncontrollably. The doom of a life stuck in a constant state of want terrified me. When was this going to end? Why hadn’t it already? In that moment, I truly believed the feeling of loneliness would never leave me.
In 2014, 4:00 am was still evening. It was the hour that a night out finally ended. I’d made it home, made a fourth meal, enjoyed a few more drinks with my roommate and friends, and finally tuckered into bed.
Deep down, I knew I couldn’t keep this up long-term. But 4:00 am solved the problem of loneliness. While I didn’t have a significant other to share my life with, I could still be with others. I would be with them at bars, at concerts, at baseball games, at parties, and until whatever hour the night called for.
I have no clue how long I cried. I’ll never forget that panic attack. What I do remember is waking up on my closet floor knowing that while the panic was over, my life was still as it was. I’ll never forget the helplessness I felt.
The helplessness ultimately forced me to give up the life I wanted.
At the time, this felt as if I’d waived the white flag of surrender to my dreams. If I couldn’t have what I wanted, I would simply want other things. In hindsight, I can see you don’t have to fight your dreams in the way I was.
I expected that in order to be happy, someone or something must bring you happiness. Joy and accomplishment came from tangible things that could be photographed and shared on Facebook: an engagement, the subsequent wedding, a new vehicle, the sold sign in front of a house, a sonogram and all of the adorable family photos. I had nothing to share. Because of that, I believed I had nothing to be happy about.
The problem I couldn’t yet understand was how I assumed happiness came from others. As I looked online in envy of my classmates, I figured they had something that made them worthy of fulfillment. Whatever the something was they had.. I didn’t. Sadly, I didn’t believe I deserved it.
Ironically, my capitulation to my Facebook-worthy expectations raised the bar in other areas of my life. Since I no longer cared about finding someone to live my life with, I took off down a new path. No literally, I started running again and completed my first half marathon. With all the time saved not sleeping in, I picked up an ARM designation from the Institute of Real Estate Management and quickly saw two promotions. I took a 3 week trip to the Philippines. I started teaching piano lessons again. I didn’t wait for Mr. Right to buy a house. I did it on my own and paid off my car along the way. I lived my life with my self in mind and things started to work out.
I wish I could say this is whether the story ends, but the truth is.. I still had not learned the lesson of where happiness comes from.
A few years later, I sat in my in-laws basement with my soon to be husband. We were living there temporarily while we were between houses. My life as it seemed was great: I’d started a new job with a Fortune 500 company, obtained my real estate license, finished my CPM designation, sat on the executive council for my IREM region, sold my house for a profit, was planning a wedding and the purchase of my first rental property. No one would have known the negative self-talk and self-loathing running through my mind.
I had everything I worked for. I had everything I wanted.
… Well, almost.
I was still sitting in much of the weight I’d gained over the years. How was it I could accomplish so many things but yet I could not control my body? The truth was, I was stressed. My commute each day was an hour and a half one way. I finished all my designations and still didn’t feel confident at work. I was financially sound and still felt uneasy about the future. I had a full social calendar but didn’t feel as if anyone actually knew me.
My husband (bless his heart) knows just how much I love ice cream. One evening, he kindly brought some to me in an effort to cheer me up. I sat outside with him and took a bite. I’d been through this charade before: Have a stressful day, enjoy some Ben & Jerry’s to take the edge off and wake up to… the remainder of yesterday’s stressful day. Finally, it hit me.
“Honey… I don’t think this is actually going to make me happy.”
Until that day, I’d never left a bowl of ice cream (or anything for that matter) uneaten. I always looked to something (food, wine, a new award, another race PR, a fancy trip) to make me feel better. There was always some THING that made my reality temporarily better than it was.
But the truth was, there was nothing wrong about the reality I was in. The life I was living was fine, a-okay, wonderful, spectacular. It was simply me failing to see the beauty around me because there was always that next thing.
I took an honest hard look at why I was doing things.
Turns out, most of it was to gain others’ approval. So, I decided to make a list of what I wanted and seek help to see those goals to fruition. I started with my health.
As it turns out, I love working out for the simple joy of feeling blood pump through my body. I love eating healthy because cooking from scratch is therapeutic. I love reading and writing as it allows me to be expressive and creative. From there, I decided I wanted to take a step into health and fitness by asking my beloved gym if they’d be interested in morning classes. Lucky for me, they were and I was able to start my journey as a coach.
And with it came… a 4:00 am wake up call.
At 4:00 am, the world is quiet and I am lonely. The very thing I feared the most is now the most loving time of my day. In the early hours of the morning, I journal, I read, I write and I live the life that I want to live.
I learned that happiness comes from within. It’s not granted with a double-tap on Instagram or a comment of Facebook. And it’s always available to me. Even in my most difficult times, gratitude and reflection have always been an option.
All of the external things I have, enjoy and wish for are wonderful. But they’re truly not the cause of my happiness. I am the cause of my happiness. Every day I actively choose happiness.
… but a bowl of Ben & Jerry’s still doesn’t hurt every once in a while.
Originally published at https://annajavellana.com on May 3, 2020.